Arsenal Spotlight: Arsenal 2, Southampton 0
Caleb Alexander played collegiate soccer at UNC-Asheville before joining the Rapids front office, first as a tickets sales executive and recently a Service Specialist. He’s also a life-long Arsenal fan and will be keeping Rapids fans updated on the Gunners throughout the 2013-2014 season.
A thrilling 3-3 tie between Liverpool and Everton in the Merseyside derby on Saturday morning added extra importance to Arsenal’s match against Southampton. A win would stretch Arsenal’s lead atop the Premier League to four points, whereas a loss by two or more goals would miraculously place Southampton in first place. In a less than vintage performance, Arsenal scrapped their way to a 2-0 win - thanks to two goals from Olivier Giroud - and created breathing room between themselves and second place Liverpool (highlights above).
The bulk of the game was played in midfield, with neither team able to assert much dominance. In the first half it looked as if luck would not be on Arsenal’s side as they hit the post twice with two brilliant efforts on goal.
On the first, Jack Wilshere got on the end of a loose ball in the penalty area, but his delicately placed chip over an onrushing keeper hit the inside of the far post before landing back in the Southampton keeper’s arms. The second could have been one of the most impressive goals of the season. Mesut Özil played a low cross from the right side of the penalty area to Aaron Ramsey, who flicked the ball with the heel of his right foot towards goal. All Southampton keeper, Artur Boruc, could do was watch as the ball struck the outside of the post and went out for a goal kick.
Boruc would be involved again soon after, but this time for all the wrong reasons. The former Celtic and Fiorentina keeper had the opportunity to clear a routine back pass from his defender, but instead decided to take a touch and attempt to dribble past Arsenal forward Giroud. The Frenchman couldn’t believe his luck as he poked the ball away from the Southampton keeper and walked it into an empty net for the Arsenal lead. It was a horrendous mistake from an otherwise reliable goalkeeper.
Arsenal held onto their lead until halftime and much of the second half passed without chances for either team. Arsenal were happy to absorb pressure while looking for the crucial second goal that would see the game out. That opportunity came with around five minutes remaining. Per Mertesacker’s jersey was pulled on a corner and the ref had no option but to point to the spot for a penalty kick. Typically this is a foul that goes unnoticed all the time in the box, but in this instance the referee had a clear line of sight, and it was another defensive error by Southampton that would lead to a goal. Giroud stepped up to score his second goal of the match and his seventh in the Premier League this season to wrap up the game for the Gunners.
A quick turnaround sees Arsenal play again on Tuesday, November 26th when they host French side, Marseille in the UEFA Champions League. After Arsenal’s win in Germany against Borussia Dortmund on Match Day 4, a victory on Tuesday would all but assure them of qualification to the Round of 16. Marseille are coming off of a 3-1 win over Ajaccio on Friday and currently sit in fourth place in Ligue 1, although they have yet to win a game in the Champions League and have no hope of advancing past the group stage.
In other news, Thierry Henry has been spotted training with Arsenal. Before you get too excited, there is no hint of another return, as he is just maintaining his fitness in the MLS offseason. We can dream though, can’t we?
Watch NBC Sports Saturday Premier League recap below: